Everything You Need to Know About a Campervan Road Trip in New Zealand

Jessica Peterson

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My husband and I spent nine days in a campervan in New Zealand. It was the trip of a lifetime.

There’s a lot more to it than just renting the campervan. Learn from our experience and be prepared. The less you have to worry about, the more you can enjoy the exquisite beauty of New Zealand! But first…

Is a campervan right for me?

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If you are a photographer, stop here and skip to the next question. Driving through New Zealand is a photographers’ dream! In fact, there’s so much beauty, you will have a hard time keeping any kind of schedule. It’s tempting to stop at every vista, lake, hillside, and mountain to take pictures.

What If I Don’t Like Camping?

I don’t consider myself a rugged camper. Desiring a more comfortable experience, I opted for what I consider glamping — a campervan. Still, living in a campervan is not like staying in a luxury hotel — no matter how nice the van. If you don’t enjoy a little adventure, the outdoors, and can’t live with a bathtub, you’ll be happier booking a hotel. If, on the other hand, you like the open road, having a flexible itinerary (or none at all), and peeing while moving, you’ll love the campervan experience!

Is renting a campervan cheaper than a hotel?

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Not really, unless you rent the lowest end campervan or you only book five-star hotels (not that New Zealand has many of those). Renting a campervan is not the cheaper option; it’s the one that grants you the most freedom. There are some hefty expenses to consider, such as diesel tax. After you return the van, you’ll pay tax on the kilometers driven. Inquire about the exact charge at the time of rental because if you’re going to be driving long distances, it might be cheaper to purchase a full coverage policy that covers diesel tax and insurance.

You’ve also got to figure in costs like campsite rental, which varies according to amenities from $10-35/night. The campsites allow you to plug in the vehicle overnight so you can have electricity and refill your water tank, as well as dump your waste container.

The longer you stay, the more likely you are to get a deal. Campervan companies often require a minimum rental of one week if you’re going to pick-up and drop-off the van in two different cities. They also offer early bird rates and one-way specials. Check company websites or use a campervan comparison website.

How much is it?

Campervan rentals range from $400 to $2,500 per week. You’ve also got to factor in the following:

  • Gas
  • Diesel tax
  • Insurance
  • GPS rental
  • Roadside assistance
  • Campsite rental
  • Ferry fees

Which campervan should I rent?

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Ahhh, good question because you have options here. Obviously, the more amenities included, the higher the price. I can’t live without daily showers so I opted for the van with the shower and the toilet. That’s right, some vans don’t have toilets. Some are just minivans with mattresses. This is the cheapest option. If you’re on a tight budget and don’t mind using a shared campsite toilet and shower, you can save hundreds. If however, you want a little more comfort, I recommend the Mighty Double Up (pictured above), which includes a toilet, shower, two beds, and a kitchenette. Even though there were just two of us, it was nice having the bed in the cab rather than having to dismantle the table to set up the bed every night. It was also very cozy.

Should I Share a Campervan with Friends?

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Only if you really like them! There’s zero privacy in a van (except in the toilet if you have one) and you will be sharing everything from music to smells with your van mates. You might also consider your friends’ (possible psychotic) driving habits before you choose to travel together.

>> READ NEXT:  Review: Ubud Sari Health Resort

Which company should I use?

We had a good experience with Mighty, although we did wait in line for a bit to pick up our van. However, they were helpful even when the van broke down. It was the last night of our trip, and fortunately we pulled into a hotel parking lot just before the thing stopped working. Mighty picked up the van and did not charge us any additional fees (phew!). You can also try these companies:

What do I need to pack for a campervan trip?

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It depends on the campervan you rent, but many come with all the supplies you need like pillows, blankets, towels, cookware, and even toilet paper. You can also rent a heater, though some vans have them built in. Bring your own laundry soap and toiletries. If you have a lot of electronics, I recommend bringing a power strip to charge them all at once. Our van did not have an auxiliary input for my iPhone so I bought a small speaker.

Where can I go?

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Pretty much everywhere, even between islands! We took our van across Cook Straight on the Bluebridge Ferry. That wasn’t cheap and I did get seasick, but it was the easiest option for continuing our road trip from North to South Island. Bonus: we docked in the picturesque port of Picton and I never would have visited that town otherwise.

Where do I park?

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You can do free camping, meaning you park anywhere it’s legal, or rent a campsite. There are state campsites and private sites. They vary in cleanliness, amenities, availability, and cost. We never found a state campsite, but were pleased with the private sites we rented, some of which had hot showers, swimming pools, laundry facilities, and hot tubs. Some campsites can be booked online.

What else do I need to know?

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You don’t need to be a mechanic or a truck driver, but you should do a thorough check of the vehicle before you depart. Our campervan had a drainage problem that we suffered through long after we got on the road. You will also need to empty the waste container regularly, which isn’t hard, but isn’t pleasant either.

Campervans drive like trucks, not luxury automobiles. The ride can be loud and rough, but fortunately New Zealand roads are meticulously well-maintained. You have to be alert when driving a campervan because most roads are two lanes and many snake through mountains and require hair-pin turns. This is especially true when it rains and at night.

Many campervans have manual transmission, so if you can’t drive a stick shift, I don’t recommend trying to learn on a campervan in New Zealand.

Oh, and you drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheel is on the right!

What are the Must-See Places in New Zealand?

Honestly, there isn’t a corner of New Zealand that isn’t interesting/breathtaking/cool. You can view all our travels here:

Watch my New Zealand travel video: Life on the Road

Jessica Peterson
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Jessica Peterson

Jessica Peterson is a travel filmmaker, photographer, and journalist. She released her first documentary film about indigenous culture on Guam in 2016, after having lived nearly 7 years on the Pacific island. Jessica is currently on the Great American Roadtrip in her Airstream trailer.
Jessica Peterson
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  • New Zealand looks so beautiful, I can’t believe I’ve never visited considering how close it is to Melbourne! Renting a caravan sounds like the perfect way to see it, exploring hidden towns you’d never see otherwise.

    Tessa / Bramble & Thorn

  • Vera

    I did a Campervan Road Trip in Colorado with my family and friends, and it was absolutely crazy! We had an awesome time there. Going to New Zealand has been in my bucket list since forever so tis are great tips to know for my future plans;)
    With love,
    vera
    http://theflashwindow.weebly.com

    • Hi Vera. That sounds fun. I’ll be posting more pics from the New Zealand adventure to whet your appetite.

  • Alina G.

    Jessica, thank you so much for this “straight to business” post. So many posts on the internet, so little helpful and well structured ones. Yours is great. Thanks!